A friend of mine is about two months away from delivering her third child, and as her belly thickens, her
patience thins. Her list of complaints is long: she’s sick of being pregnant, her husband doesn’t help
enough, her three- and five-year- old kids don’t listen to her, she’s loathes cooking, she’s tired all the
“I hear you,” I said sympathetically. “Just two more months to go.”
My friend wanted none of it. “I just wish I’d been born a black bear,” she hissed back. “At least then I
could get some sleep.”
I’d been thinking about bears anyway, because early March is when black bears and grizzlies start
emerging from their dens in Cody Yellowstone Country. Last year, the first tracks were discovered on
Feb. 22 in the northern region of the park, and the first grizzly was spotted on March 15.
But I couldn’t imagine why my friend thought she’d get more sleep as a pregnant black bear. Turns out,
she was right. Not only would she get more sleep, she’d be pregnant for only seven months, she
wouldn’t have to cook, and she wouldn’t have to be concerned about a slacker husband or misbehaving
Black bear mothers give birth in January after a seven-month gestation period. Delivery occurs while
they are holed up and cozy in their dens, sound asleep. When it’s time to deliver, the mother barely
wakes from her slumber. She typically delivers two or three one-pound cubs, who are born without hair,
teeth or sight. Still in a stupor, mother eats the birth membranes, licks the cubs and settles them against
her belly so they can nurse while she goes back to sleep for two months.
After emerging from their dens in the spring, black bear moms spend the next few months nursing their
cubs and keeping them safe and warm. The mamas do not need or want the help of males or other
bears. In fact, they will viciously drive away any other adult bear – male or female – who happens to
wander into their territory. This small, tight-knit family grouping of adult female and two or three cubs
remains together for 17 months, spending one more winter in a den. By the second spring, the mama
bears drive their male and female yearling cubs away.
A bear mother’s work is done.
No nightly meal-planning, toilet-scrubbing or late-night emergency room runs. No birthday parties,
school pictures, soccer practice and parent-teacher conferences. No story time, silly songs or family road
trips to Yellowstone. I pointed all of this out to my exasperated friend. She sat quietly for a moment, and
I believe she was weighing the pros and cons of pregnancy as a human or an Ursus americanus.
“No thick ankles, heartburn or epidurals either,” she hissed. “Still, I suppose it’s better to bear a baby
than bear a bear. But just barely.” My friend’s a bit of a smart-aleck.
Until next time, I’m lovin’ life and watching for bear tracks in Cody Yellowstone Country.